The vintage car market has grown steadily and is a great place to park excess liquidity. It is also an environment in which one vintage vehicle can appreciate to stratospheric heights while another languishes in a garage. The move to purchase a classic car requires serious homework, deep insight and local knowledge. The same model and year of car can have widely differing values, and finding the right car and buyer for the idiosyncrasies of the individual vehicles can make the difference.
The early American muscle cars were vehicles of dreams, movies and TV shows for many, and a symbol of Detroit’s heyday.
These cars enjoyed tremendous growth in value when the right age of buyer reached a higher earning capacity and wanted to buy back their youth. The dreams and the cars were easily exportable, so values grew. Whole companies and industries were born to find, restore, maintain and sell these pieces of folklore.
Micromarkets developed for cars that were in different states of repair, restoration and modification. The most valuable were the mythical “barn finds”, or cars that were parked and forgotten. The market was strong enough to sustain re-creations as well – cars built from the ground up or sometimes with just the paperwork of the original serial number and some key parts. The market grew to stratospheric heights. As all bubbles do, this one has burst and the market for such cars has settled.
A wonderful example of a micromarket at its height is that of the vintage Porsches. More enthusiast-oriented from the day they were driven off the showroom floor, and aimed at more particular drivers than the American cars, the vintage market for the classics from Stuttgart were the dream cars of a higher level. These cars represented a shift, having smaller engines located in the back and were built largely in accordance with the vision of one man. They were small, tight, and required muscles to drive and fortitude to drive fast.
The growth market used to be confined to the early 356s and the right years and models of the iconic 911. The present market is so overheated that demand is across the board.
What they call the “impact-bumper cars” were so named because they came at a time when American law demanded that cars handle five miles an hour (or so) hits to the front and rear with no damage, mainly for repair-cost issues, it was argued. They had long ugly extensions front and back that would cushion any low speed impact, and they destroyed the pure lines of the 911s. The boys and girls who grew up in that period now look at these cars with fond memories, so much so that they are taking the more sculpted 911s and adding these lumps to them.
The market for vintage Porsches has very clear models that command the highest values, but because they are in such short supply, they are almost unattainable. As such, the market for “lesser” models has increased more than it should have because those models are all that can be had.
Vintage cars are gorgeous examples of art, craftsmanship and engineering and, while they have every right to be in museums, they are best enjoyed on the road or track, putting you in a time warp of sorts as you drive in a cocoon of old-world soul through a modern landscape.
If you look at these vehicles and see that they are well-appreciated, you ask; “What is next?”. For this, you need to look not just at the significance of the cars and the industry, but also of the world. There are a lot more Japanese carsout there than American ones.
They have always had a following, and the people that grew up on them are reaching their levels of buying power timed with their need for nostalgia. The first important cars, such as the Datsun Z and the Mazda RX7 and the early sporting attempts by Honda and Toyota, are already collectors items in Japan, and the Japanese nostalgic car culture is growing. They are attainable like the American cars, they are reliable like the Porsches, and the earlier models have unique design cues. They are timestamps of the era of Japanese dominance, and are undervalued and less expensive to restore and maintain. Just as the businesses popped up to take advantage of the other bubbles, they are beginning to appear now for these cars.
All this is no suggestion to go and buy old cars. The best choices and the best market performers are those that are emblematic of their time, either because of engineering daring, design flair, orbecause they pull on the heartstrings. Collecting these cars with an eye on future value requires specialised knowledge and a commitment to restoration and maintenance that borders on the insane with teams of mechanics and humidity-controlled warehouses.
The rewards are not just financial. Carl Yuen, vice-chairman of the Classic Car Club of Hong Kong, looks at cars mainly on sentimental grounds. “The Mercedes my dad drove me to school in, the Toyota Celica I spent too much money playing with in the game Sega Rally, or the BMW 325i that I used to cheer on in the Guia Races in Macau. Value? It’s all in the heart really.” He adds that unless you are in the top tier of cars in Hong Kong, none really appreciates in value. The costs of mechanical support and storage, the problems of heat, humidity and taxes negate any growth for the most part.
Car sales warranty supervisor Andrew Ng speaks passionately of his love for classic VW Beetles, rather than liquidity. “The Beetle,” he says “is very easy to maintain, spare parts are easy to locate, and the unique look of the car” all help to fuel collector drive. There is much working against that love. There are fewer shops that can handle them and people that understand them, parts increasingly need to be sourced overseas and modern environmental concerns tend to be discouraging for those that want to keep the old metal going.
Classic Car Club chairman Arthur Lai sees both sides of the coin with his preferred brand, Mercedes-Benz. “The classic cars brought me lots of fun, enjoyment and unforgettable moments,” he says, before adding: “There are some challenges to me as well as the car values are getting higher and higher which I cannot afford. Storage is another challenge. I’m still looking for more valuable and beautiful classic cars.”
These rare vehicles are about enjoying something in your life that can transport you in time as well as in space, they can put you in touch with craftsmanship and with people that will renew your enthusiasm by taking the journey with you. Vintage and classic cars can be a lucrative place to put your money if all the factors work out, but they are an even better place to spend your time.
This article was originally published in XXIV